Interview with a Helpline volunteer

Arun is a Bliss Helpline Volunteer from Ilford. We spoke to him to find out more about what he does and how he helps the families of babies born premature or sick.

Bliss Helpline volunteers offer a listening ear, emotional support and information for families of babies born premature or sick on Bliss' UK-wide confidential Helpline.

Why did you become a Bliss volunteer?

I am currently training to be a child psychiatrist. Part of my training involved working on various neonatal units and I got to see first-hand the delivery and birth of many premature and sick babies. I met lots of anxious, distressed and worried parents and I was witness to the difficulties they faced. I really wanted to do something to reach to them and help them during a very difficult period in their lives.

What does a typical shift on the Helpline look like for you?

Every shift is different, but they all comprise of taking calls, following up voicemails and drafting responses to emails that have come through. The volume and nature of calls vary from one shift to another - evening shifts tend to be quieter, but there is no guarantee. My usual shift is a Monday evening, as this works best with my work schedule, but I love the flexibility of Bliss which allows us to swap shifts when something comes up.

What difference do you think your support on the helpline has made to parents?

I like to think that my support on the helpline has made a difference in our service user’s lives, even if it is a small one. I remember one evening, speaking to a father on the helpline asking about financial support for his sick baby. I was able to signpost him to our website and other organisations. His gratitude was palpable. It was amazing to think something as simple as that could play a significant role in a parent’s life.

What is the most difficult thing about being a Helpline volunteer?

It can be quite daunting answering calls, not knowing what’s on the other end. You do question your knowledge and ability and feel inadequate if you do not know the answers to caller’s questions. I have had amazing support from Bliss’ Volunteer Support Officers. They are always on hand to answer any questions that I have and support me, when I feel overwhelmed. They are incredibly nurturing and send me emails, phone me and even arrange face-to-face meetings to discuss issues and ensure I am comfortable and happy in my role.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a Helpline volunteer?

The most rewarding thing about being a Helpline volunteer is knowing that you can be there during a very difficult time in someone’s life. When I worked on neonatal units in the past, my job was centred on the medical side of things and treating unwell babies – it was very easy to overlook their families and friends, who were also in need of attention and support. I really feel I can do that now and reach out to parents and give them my time and effort.

What is your favourite memory of your time volunteering with Bliss?

I once spoke to a single mother with an unwell premature baby on a neonatal unit miles from where she lived. She also had two young children at home, with very little support from anyone else. She told me how she felt like a bad mother, because she could not make it to the unit every day to see her baby and how she felt guilty. She told me how she was struggling to cope and she was very tearful during the phone call. I remember just sitting at the end of the line and listening to her unload all of this. I didn’t have to say very much at all, but it was enough for her to feel heard. At the end of the call, she said thank you and told me she felt much better and that she had gotten a lot of her chest. I really felt like I made a difference to her life.

What difference has being a Bliss volunteer made to your life?

Firstly, it has taught me some incredibly valuable skills such as active listening, that I apply in my day-to-day life. I feel I can communicate and relate better to people and this has been particularly useful for my line of work. I also feel I have a greater understanding of the difficulties some parents contend with. I do not have children of my own, so working on the Helpline has given me a new found empathy for these parents and a better insight into the challenges they face.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a Helpline volunteer for Bliss?

Just do it! That’s my advice – it is highly enjoyable and has really enriched my life. Compared to other charities, I found it much easier to fit around my working schedule and it is incredibly rewarding. I think if you are considering doing some voluntary work, that gives you a chance to work with a unique client group and really feel like you’re making a difference, then this is the role for you!


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